Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Number Eight Books

This hidden gem of a bookshop can be found nestled in a quiet cobbled street in Wellington. I stumbled across it after having a potter around the nearby charity shops (after all, everyone knows a charity shop is just a vintage shop with much cheaper price tags and a little more rummaging required). I love delving for hidden treasure, and this well read rabbits burrow of a book shop is the perfect place to find it. The books are stacked floor to ceiling along almost every wall inside, and on sunny days there are little bargain shelves spilling over with discounted classics outside. There is one small square of wall, grudgingly bare of books and set up to make space for local artists to exhibit their work. The metaphorical crowning cherry on this literary confection is the book shop owner Perce. Terminally lovely and almost alarmingly chatty for the unprepared daydreaming book-browser; on my first trip to Number Eight he gave me generous discount on my books, treated me to tales of when he spent time volunteering in Somalia, and whipped up some herbal tea. That day I bought a book published in 1905, full of fantastically quaint, slightly strange but wonderfully apt quotes on character and conduct, which is fast becoming my bible for life.

I have since checked out the website [http://www.numbereightbooks.com/] and Number Eight appears to be a bit of a meeting place and a hotbed for gossip. What is clear is that Perce values conversation as highly as literature, which makes Number 8 my kind of shop. Who wants to go to a big shiny, soulless chain store to buy an overpriced book from some bored and underpaid member staff, when you could go to an independent book-shop, grab a complimentary peppermint tea and uncover sometime incredible and unexpected. This book shop embodies everything I love about the Shire and I could not think of a better place to discover my next page-turner.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Once Upon a Time there was a Princess and a Frog

I have been excited about the release of the new Disney film for weeks. Not only is it a back-to-basics hand-drawn animation based on a fairy tale, a return to the roots of what we love about Disney. But in this film we are also presented with the first black princess. I went to see the Princess and the Frog with my friend Parissa and I think we both agreed it was a landmark moment. If you like, it was the Martin Luther King moment in Disney history. I have always loved Disney, and it is not like there has been no visual variety in their leading ladies. We live in a world that has known Jasmine and Pocahontas... but if you are ever looking for a Disney princess birthday cake, banner, or tablecloth (and I have, for reasons I will explain below), what I have found inexplicably odd is the distinct lack of ethnic diversity in the princess merchandising.

Parissa's favourite Disney film is Aladdin and Jasmine was always her favourite princess - everyone played Disney princesses in primary school and she would be jasmine - So when it came to her 24th birthday, a seemingly scary ripe old age, we decided to revert to childhood and have Disney themed decorations for her surprise dinner party. A great idea in theory, however, in practise you would not believe how impossible it is to find jasmine stuff. Disney merchandise does seem populated by some kind of weird Arian race consisting of Cinderella, Sleeping beauty and Tink... with the occasional wild card inclusion of Ariel or Belle. It struck us at the time, why was this? It is only silly kiddie decorations, but why did it all have to be so singularly white, and overwhelmingly blonde?

We all have our favourite Disney film. Apparently, expressing my individuality from an early age my favourite was Robin Hood - I watched that VHS tape so many times I wore it out. However, if I were to pick a favourite princess, it would always have been Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I was absolutely transfixed by the beauty of the animation and lost in the romance of the story, but also… Cinders and Aurora both have blonde hair and blue eyes, just like me. I could watch it and pretend to be a princess; they were relate-able.

Now as an adult, whilst still able to appreciate the fabulous storytelling mastery of Disney, a couple of things trouble me. The first is ethnicity. Disney was such a big part of my childhood and it is sad to think some children might not feel the Disney magic was accessible to them. If there had been no blonde haired blue-eyed princesses, I may never have felt the films were for me and maybe I never would have pretended to be a princess or felt the same enduring love for Disney. Which brings me to my second concern, in a lot of the classic Disney the princess is not a heroine, she is a victim in need of rescuing by a handsome prince. Beauty saves the Beast, Mulan saves China, but in the main and certainly in the classic films the princess relies not on her intelligence but on magic, fate, wishing on stars, and her prince. Now as a child, this did not seem to bother me, as a young woman, this is distinctly unpalatable, when I choose to think about it.

Enter the Princess and the Frog. This princess is not like any other, she is rooted in the real world. Specifically she inhabits the world New Orleans, a bustling jazz hub of music dancing and great monetary and ethnic inequality. The film manages, with no agenda, to represent all walks of life from the spoilt rich girl, the ‘princess’, to the hard working but poor, heroine of the piece, yet in the main money and ethnicity is a polite undercurrent to the main wave and swell of the story.

This film filled with the most exquisitely stunning animation I have seen in any classic Disney. The Characters are loveable, the story is heart warming as we would expect, and best of all, the princess rescues the prince… and after putting in all the good old-fashioned hard work necessary to reach their dreams, they live happily ever after.

The end.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Finding Equilibrium

Right, I know this sounds like an odd starting point on a quest for physical and spiritual well being, but last week I watched Jodie Kidd's documentary Crystal Therapy - I Believe in Miracles and it really intrigued me. Crystals are so beautiful to look at, and I think the idea of them really brought me back to my childhood. Jodie suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and the crystals and the therapy really helped her cope and re-centre herself. Now I wouldn't say I have anxiety, but I am a worrier and if I feel I haven't achieved enough in a day then sometimes I can get quite stressed out.

Aged 6 I loved anything pretty and shiny, and I remember on trips to the seaside I would pick up any colourful and shiny pebbles from the beach and bring them to my dad and he would tell me what they were... that's amethyst, that ones quartz. I can't say that I have thought much about them in-between then and now. My fascination with pretty crystals, like the habit of always wanting to wear red shoes, and only wearing dresses that lifted up when I spun around; I thankfully left in my childhood, where they belong.

This weekend however, when I was feeling particularly stressed, quite lacking in motivation and in serious need of a lift, my mind wandered back to the documentary. I did a little google research to see where I could go locally that would provide something similar. I hit upon Equilibrium complimentary therapies and opted for a crystal wand massage.

Diane the owner runs Equilibrium from a small room in her immaculate house. I have had massages before, granted not in the UK, but on my travels in Thailand, and I found they relaxed me and released tension from my muscles but they didn't lift my mood or have much of a lasting relaxing effect once I'd got off the massage table/grubby mattress/plastic chair. However, this small room for me was complete bliss, a total escape from the world outside.

The wands were heated slightly to take the edge off their normally cold temperature and used as massage tools - like the Jaguar to the Volvo of body shops wooden massage rollers- the spherical ends for firm use on knotted muscles and the pointed end for work on pressure points. If you believe in the other stuff, the crystals draw negative energy out of the body with the ball end of the wand and can transfer positive energy into the body with the sharp end.

It was a really chilled out massage and for the rest of the day I felt almost sedated I was that mellow. The nearest experience I can offer in comparison would be... accidentally eating space cakes, but minus the low level paranoia.
I can't say I got a caffeine type energy kick that I expected, but I did feel I had a balance and a contentment that I didn't have before. I have felt less stressed, less inclined to worry about things and generally more able to take a calm approach to everyday life since he massage. Now, whether that was because of a really good massage, or if it was the benefits of the positive energy from the crystals, who can say.

Friday, 12 February 2010

A tribute to Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen; CBE, four times voted British Designer of the year, the creative genius behind the most exquisite couture clothing, and the dynamic mind responsible for the establishment of high streets rebellious staples - skull prints and low rise jeans, was found dead in his home on Thursday.

His family have released this statement on the McQueen website:

The tragic news has reverberated across the media today. Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said Mr McQueen had made an "outstanding contribution to British fashion." Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, described Mr McQueen a "modern-day genius" and said his death was "the hugest loss to anyone who knew him and for very many who didn't."

McQueen influenced a decade of designers and was the imagination behind wave after wave of high street trends. He has been the inspiration of a generation. The loss to British and World fashion is great; the loss to Alexander McQueen's family and friends must be incalculable.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Chocolate Hotel

There are many ways to spend a weekend… and as it was our two-year anniversary, my boyfriend and I chose to spend our weekend in Bournemouth, staying in The Chocolate Boutique Hotel.

I know what you are thinking, my sister has asked me the same question already, and unfortunately, it was not a hotel made out of ‘Hotel Chocolate’ chocolate. However, it was a chocolate themed hotel and apparently the birthplace of the chocolate fountain. The hotel provided, as any self-respecting chocolate hotel would, freshly made chocolate cocktails (I want to say we called them Choc-tails, but I only just thought of that and anyway we didn’t have any). For the discerning chocolate tourist, there was a complimentary chocolate fountain, complete with strawberries and marshmallows, in the room; and there was a free chocolate making kit thrown into the bargain. I challenge you to find any woman who would say no to any of the above.

Yes, Bournemouth is an absolute trek away from my current residence in the shire of Shrop, and yes, my boyfriend was submitted to the odd “aren’t you fifty years too young to go to go to Bournemouth” comment; mostly from his parents. But, we were by the sea, the sun was shining and we had a tasty chocolate fountain and a bottle of champagne waiting for us in the room… Lovely.

Incidentally, as we felt cheeky asking for flutes and accessories for our non-hotel-bought-champers, I learnt his weekend that with the right company Champagne is perfectly quaffable and actually tastes best when cooled in a sink full of cool water and drunk from glass tumblers, as long as there is a strawberry on hand to decorate the rim of the glass.